Private conversations

“Dad, will you sleep with me?”

This is Daniel’s code for “will you lie down next to me now that everything has quieted down and talk to me about some things on my mind?” Usually these conversations center around mundane or stream-of-consciousness items, perhaps thoughts about a super hero character he’s been reading about recently or the various household food items he’s noticed are at alarmingly low levels—important food “staples” like cheese (Daniel resembles the charming British Claymation character, Wallace, of “Wallace and Gromit” fame in this regard—he’s just crackers about cheese!) and Cookie Crisp cereal. Once in a while he wants to explore different physical sensations or changes he’s experiencing: “Dad, sometimes when I close my eyes all I see is blackness, but other times it’s kinda reddish orange. Why is that?”

I’ve noticed that in the past year I’ve relied often on two go-to phrases during these conversations with the middle amigo: “I don’t know,” and “You should really ask your mother.” Once in a great while I’ll even use them in tandem.

“Dad, why is Abby—” he began a couple of nights ago.

“I dunno!” I preempted, too anxious about the possible remainder to his query to hear it out, “You should really ask your mother!”

Two nights ago the family concluded its day as we normally do—together in the boys’ bedroom to read, pray, hug, and say good night. Abby and Krista eventually departed and I began to follow them out of the room.

“Dad,” Daniel began in his usual fashion. “Will you sleep with me?”

“Sure.” I glanced over at Luke, who lay on his bed 15 feet away, his head propped up by his right hand with the adjoining elbow and upper arm supported by his mattress. He was concentrating on a graphic novel and completely oblivious to our presence half-a-first-down-away.

I lay down next to Daniel, faced his body and wrapped my right arm gently across his chest. His eyes remained closed and he gripped his beloved sock monkey tightly with his right hand.

“Dad, have you noticed?”

“Noticed what?”

“I’m not as spazzy as I used to be. I’m getting control of my autism.”

“Yes, you are doing a great job, Daniel. Now that you mention it, you’re right—you haven’t been flapping your arms hardly at all lately, and I’ve noticed you’re doing a good job concentrating on some things much better—and you’ve been very, very sociable with other people, you know, asking them good questions and really listening to their responses. That’s awesome. But you know, you’ve always been very, very sweet and kind and I’m grateful for that. I just love your personality!”

“Uh huh. Thanks. I love yours, too.”

We lay there together in silence for another 20 seconds or so.

“Dad?”

“Still here.”

“Do you think I’ll ever drive a car?”

“Hmmm. Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. If you don’t, there are lots of other ways to get places and we’ll help you figure that out, OK?”

“Alright. Will I be able to get a job when I get older?”

“Oh, absolutely. You’ll have to train and work hard, but we’ll help with that, too, I promise. We want you to find work that you enjoy and feel good about, so we’ll start exploring that quite a lot in the coming years. You have a lot of abilities to share with the world. It would be a great shame not to share them.”

“OK. Do some people never get married?”

“Yes, Daniel, of course. Your Aunt Susie never got married, for instance.”

“Is it okay to never get married? If I never get married will I be lonely?”

I resisted the overwhelming urge to respond, “I don’t know. You should really ask your mother.” I studied his face instead and touched his cheek. My not-so-little autistic boy was beginning to peer into the future and wonder what it held for him, a future beyond Cheez-Its and Cookie Crisp, a future involving labor, responsibilities, and adult-sized tribulations.

“Yes, Daniel, it’s okay to never get married. I believe Aunt Susie would tell you she’s had—and has—a pretty terrific life. She has joy and love and family surrounding her. I know she’s been lonely sometimes, though. On the other hand, weird as this might seem to you, married people can be lonely, too. Being married is wonderful, but it’s also very hard. When you’re married you have to share like you’ve never shared before, and compromise, and work-work-work together! You know what I mean?”

“I think so.” He moved sock monkey from his right hand to his left. “I might get married. Or I might not. Either way, I think my life will be pretty good. But not perfect. Not yet. That’s what heaven will be. Good night, dad. Thanks for talking.”

“No, Daniel. Thank YOU.”

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By Tim Swensen

Virtue & Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected] Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.